The widespread deployment of broadband internet to the home has
enabled new kinds of application that once were seen only in science
fiction, but which today are commonplace. Among these applications is
video conferencing applications. For about $100 you can purchase a
very good web camera (web cam) which you hook into your laptop or
desktop computer, and by running one of several available
applications, you are able to open a two way video connection across
the internet in order to take part in video conferencing.
These applications provide high quality images with real motion video (depending of course on the availability of broadband connections on both ends). The video quality rivals that of professional systems of 10 or so years ago that used to require renatl of studios at both ends.
The two most widely used video conferncing systems for the typical users are Skype and Windows Live video. Google has a more recent offering, and then there are the business systems such as the Polycom.
SkypeSkype is the most widely used of such systems. Originally supporting audio web connections, video chats were added several years ago. The audio quality of Skype is superb, far superior to the typical speakerphones that I have used. Whereas audio conferencing on the internet was once seen as a cheaper alternative to the phone, and with a corresponding decreas in quality of the call, I find today's skype far superior to using the phone in those situations where I want hands free operation (i.e. what I would get with a speakerphone using normal telephony).
The vido quality of Skype is also outstanding. Part of the quality of any video conferning system depends on the video camera, I use a Logitech Pro 9000 camera. But once one has a good camera, quality also depends on the system you are using, and the bandwidth available to you. Given a good camer and a solid connection, Skype vido conferencing is able to provide you with a very realistic experience. The only times I have occasional problems is due to my network connection, where unfortunately I have found Time Warner's Road Runner service to be less reliable than I would like.
Skype supports a long list of extensions that imrpove the capabilities available during a teleconference. Among these are the ability to share an image of your desktop, which is quite useful if you are tyring to help someone salve a computer problem. This used to be an extension, but is now built into the main Skype client. Other extensions include:
Windows Live Messenger ConferencingWindows Live Messenger Conferencing provides service similar to Skype's video conferencing. I have had some people tell me that they prefer Windows Live finding that the connections are more reliable. Personally I have not noticed the difference.